After a steady uptrend for most of fall 2012, existing home sales declined 1% for December, according to a National Association of Realtors (NAR) report released today. Analysts had expected a 2.2% increase over November's numbers.

With a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million for December, this newest report represent a sharp fall from November's revised 4.8% gain. Compared to December 2011, however, sales are up 12.8%. 

"Record low mortgage interest rates clearly are helping many home buyers, but tight inventory and restrictive mortgage underwriting standards are limiting sales," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "The number of potential buyers who stayed on the sidelines accumulated during the recession, but they started entering the market early last year as their financial ability and confidence steadily grew, along with home prices. Likely job creation and household formation will continue to fuel that growth. Both sales and prices will again be higher in 2013."

For December, the median time on market for all homes was 73 days, up from 70 days in November, but 26.3% below 99 days in December 2011.

Looking back at 2012, numbers improved dramatically. Total sales volume was the highest in five years, and the median existing home price rose the most since 2005. The preliminary annual total for existing home sales for 2012 was 4.65 million units, according to the association, up 9.2% from the 2011 number. For all of 2012, the preliminary median existing-home price was $176,600, up 6.3% from 2011.

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